Embarkation: Travelled to Southampton, through the suitcase Drop off zone and used the parking facilities before entering the Cruise Terminal for joining the ship. This was all very straight forward, well managed and with trusty sea pass off we went. As we had opted for Concierge Class I was impressed our luggage was already at our Stateroom by the time we had boarded, so we checked the room was OK (it was, if somewhat small) and off we went to check out the Oceanview Cafe and formal dining room...
All Aboard (The Good, The Bad and The Ugly!): We had requested a second sitting and a large table, as we do enjoy the different and eclectic people you meet on a cruise, (the best tip we had before our first cruise was to check out your dinning table, it's still a top tip!). We had been put on a table for 4 next to the waiters delivery door - first black mark. So off we went to the Dining Room manager to complain and ask to be moved, so we joined a queue of about 30 people who had similar issues - wrong sittings, on large tables when asked for small and vice versa - pretty basic stuff which Celebrity good so badly wrong. We were put on a table for 8 which at first was great, but this table became the "rotation table" as people moved to the earlier sitting, moved tables (to and from) or just didn't turn up (us included)
Food: There are 2 main restaurants, the Oceanview Cafe which serves buffet style which generally was good, but with 3000 passengers peak mealtimes are a bit of a scrum, especially breakfast and lunchtime, think of a cheap all inclusive hotel in the Caribbean and you've got it! So much so that we used room service for breakfast pretty much every day (which was good) and for lunch we went after 2:00pm, no big deal for us but lots of complaints. The main dinning room is Sonata Restaurant, over 2 floors, which looks impressive and serves "A La Carte", I can only say we were extremely disappointed with the food here. The menu has a fixed side where the food does not change for the duration of the cruise and consisted of a couple of salads, soup, meat, fish and a vegetarian option and second side of the menu changed nightly consisting of a couple of salads, soups meat, fish and a vegetarian option ! (at least the carnivores had a choice though!). General consensus on our table was the food was bland and for me as a vegetarian I was offered an Indian curry as an alternative - it really was not good. There is also a Cafe on the 5th floor selling Panini's for $5 per head, we liked this place - good food, no queues and eat any time. We didn't try the speciality restaurants as we felt at $30 / $35 per head plus wine seemed expensive when you consider the cost of the cruise
Facilities: Some of the main events we enjoyed on our previous cruises was the gym and the so called "West End Shows", both we felt were poor compared to RC. The gym in particular, is about half the size of Independence of the Seas, and had a lot of the cardio vascular equipment out of order. The shows were no more than average except the final show which was very good. Lots of bars we enjoyed, in particular the Martini Bar (although expensive) and the Ensemble lounge which featured the Manny Kellough Jazz Band (brilliant) - other acts to look out for around the ship are the string quartet (Inspirational Strings) and the Acapella group (Sounds Decision) - both excellent. The main ship's band normally on deck 15 we thought were very poor, not that we ventured upto the Sky Bar / Lounge as smoking is allowed there - so it stank! A lot has been said about the Lawn on the Eclipse, which looks great and is a nice addition to sit out on but is taken over by the smokers again which seemed to anger a lot of people. There's a nice Cafe on deck 5 where you can get free treats but the tea and coffee is an extra charge - also for the wine drinkers there's the Wine Cellar's bar, which is a great meeting place where you can sample wine by the glass or bottle away from the crowds (tip, ask the Sommelier for a charge card to get wine from the machines which are open 24hr a day!)
Tours: We're pretty much "do it yourself" when it comes to tours and except for St. Petersburg we either walked into town or caught the Ship's shuttle buses which are a few dollars and very regular. For St Petersburg we booked 3 tours, the Ballet (Swan Lake) which was brilliant, a full tour around the Hermitage with Russian Lunch and guided tour. The Hermitage was amazing and not to be missed, the Russian lunch I didn't eat and the tour was well guided. We also did a ½ day tour with shopping which was dreadful - so bad we complained (as did most of the group) and got ½ our money back from the operator. Avoid this one if they do not change the itinerary as you end up in a tacky souvenir shop with no free time and limited photo opportunities. The navigation of the ship into Stockholm is quite a sight, it starts at about 3:00 am (!) and lasts for a few hours through the archipelago and is quite frankly stunning. Make the effort as for most people it's a once in a lifetime event !
Disembark: Usual stuff here, bags outside staterooms everywhere the night before mad the ship is in pretty much full party mode! A couple of things to note though, we were asked prior to boarding the ship what time would we like to disembark (we though must be part of the Concierge club priority boarding) and we asked for 09:00 as we had a 3 hour car journey, we had to be off at 07:10 am so not sure what happened there. Also, do not order room service via the TV - it doesn't turn up and you're not told either! Overall: The Eclipse has a lot going for it but is let down in a few areas - not enough to stop us going again though. As you can tell the dining experience for me was poor and disappointing - on a 5* ship the chef surely can offer more than 1 vegetarian option or a curry, and the Dining Room manager got the seating so badly wrong for so many people I can only assume this was down to teething problems. The cost of the cruise is more expensive than the RC cruises we'd done previously - was it worth it? I'm not so sure especially with the current dollar v pound conversion (£1 = $1.48). Although we paid gratuities in advance this does not include any purchases for food, drinks or even excursions - you pay 15% automatically to any bill, which after 14 nights was some total on top of what we had originally paid!
Hope this helps - now where can we go next....
The Celtic Duo !